Freelancing as a Graphic Designer


This web page discusses starting out as a freelance graphic designer.

My advice: work for people that you can meet face-to-face, and work for companies that you can walk into. This will greatly reduce the chances of you getting ripped off. It's much easier to be dishonest when you hide behind a website or email message. Plus, if a company makes enough money to pay rent, heat, phone, etc, then the greater the chances are that they are trustworthy.

I tell most of my graphic design students to work for a company or agency for 3–5 years, at least, before striking out on their own. This 3–5 years allows time to learn how the business works, which areas of the industry you want to work or specialize in, and which areas most frequently hire freelancers. It also gives you time to build relationships with clients and printers—valuable relationships you'll need when you start your own business.

Starting to Freelance

Pretty much all graphic designers freelance at one point in their careers. Most design students also freelance. And they should—It's great for their portfolios.

Freelancing is fairly simple to do… just find an Uncle, Aunt, neighbor, or local business owner, and you'll probably find your first client. Everyone needs the help of a graphic designer at some time. Just start asking around.

Once you've found your first client, or potential client, follow these simple steps to get started in the right direction:

  1. Set up a meeting and find out exactly what they want—and what they want you to do for them. Get as detailed as possible, and write it down. This is the start of your work-for-hire contract. Every freelance transaction should have things written down and agreed upon by both parties. You really don't need to get a lawyer involved to write an official contract. To start out, just write things down to clarify who is doing what, how many ideas are you going to show them, how many revisions are included in the price, how much you're getting paid, who owns the work once it's created, and when it's due.
    - There are many freelance contract templates online to get you started.
  2. Once you've decided what you're going to do, you should decide how much you are going to charge. This is a difficult negotiation for some people, but it really doesn't have to be. I'll write more about pricing below.
  3. Next, do the work. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open and share your progress with your client. Ask questions when you have them. Don't guess, and certainly don't assume you know what your client will say or want. Ask them!
  4. Lastly, deliver the goods! Wow them with your work and politely ask for more. Now you're on your way to building a business!


Pricing Your Work and Time

Here are a few tips and rates to consider when discussing pricing with your client:

  • Most clients don't want to pay by the hour—quote your work by the project.
  • Use an hourly rate to help yourself set per project pricing. If you know it may take you 10 hours to complete a project, and you know you should be charging about $25 per hour, you now have a ballpark price for the project: $250.
  • Generally, students and beginning freelance designers charge $15–$25 per hour. Experienced designers charge $25–$50 per hour. And larger design agencies charge from $50-$150 per hour.
  • Each project is unique, so pricing should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Here are some generally accepted project pricing guidelines to get students started (just the design work is included):
    • Logo: $200-$300
    • Web Sites: $100–$200/page (5-page minimum)
    • Brochure: $300-$400 (standard size, bi-fold, 4 color process)
    • Business cards, letterhead, envelope: $250–$350
    • Posters: $100-$200
    • Direct mailings, foldables, catalogs, multiple-page booklets, etc. offer so many variables they are difficult to set a price range. Refer back to your hourly rate to get a starting point.
    • Generally, these prices include an initial meeting to gather facts, three color concepts, two revisions (meeting time included), and one finalized design. If your client becomes unreasonable with repeated revisions, most designers charge by the hour past two revisions.
  • Things to consider when pricing your work:
    • What exactly does the client want? Don't say you'll design a brochure for $300 and then learn that they expect you to write all the copy for it and paint five detailed acrylic canvases of different people for it. Know what you are expected to do before you quote a price.
    • Will you have to hire any people yourself to get the job done? What if your client wants a shopping cart on their web site? How much with it cost you to hire a programmer? What if they want a Flash animation on each page? How much will that cost you? Or what if they want professional photography? Etc...
    • Who will pay for the stock photography if you use it? How about a custom font? Who will pay for it?
    • How will you get paid? It is a generally accepted practice to receive half before you start, and the balance once you deliver the final design. Your business needs cash flow!
    • How will you deliver the final artwork? On a thumb drive? CD? Email? Color print? Who pays for the thumb drive, CD, or color print? What file format do they need? PDF? EPS? Native file format?


Sell Packages, Not Individual Products

You know… these shoes and this belt would go great with your new dress! Get the picture? Most good business people sell packages, not products. So when you meet with your client for the first time, find out what they need and then start the wheels turning in their head by telling them how they may only want a logo now, but you can also design a business card, letterhead, envelope, web site, brochure, invoice, post cards, etc. as their business grows. Sell packages… not products. This is how a business is built.


Freelancing is fun! Don't let the logistics get you down. They are important, and you need to consider them, but don't forget they only take up a small portion of your design career. Once you hammer out the details, you get to do what you love… design!


Good Luck!